FIVE MO' THINGS, 1/4/13
1) Texans Cheerleaders. This is as solid a bunch as you'll find in the league. You've got the Google. Find them.
2) My incredible work ethic. As I type this, I'm siting in my Las Vegas hotel. It is 3:22am local time. I spent the day doing what any normal man does when he's in Vegas, and the time of day I'm constructing this blog would suggest that my activities were enjoyable. From a sports perspective, tomorrow's Bengals/UC/NFL Playoffs betting possibilities in the sports books have me foaming at the mouth. Or maybe that's the two cigars I smoked. Either way, I'm blogging in the middle of the night from Vegas while on vacation. Never accuse me of not being dedicated.
3) Bengals v. Texans.
Of Marvin Lewis' four playoff teams, this year's probably has the best chance to win.
Hindsight is 20/20, and this seems much easier to say after the fact, but neither of the Bengals three previous postseason teams went into the playoffs with much momentum (for what it's worth, only one of the previous ten Super Bowl winners lost their regular season finale, and that team, the '07 Giants played very well in losing to the unbeaten Patriots), and if you're honest, you look back on those years and remember that heading into the playoffs, early exits seemed probable.
*In 2005, the Bengals clinched the division in Detroit, and then spent the next two weeks acting as if their AFC North Title granted them eternal immortality and free lapdances for life. Maybe the Bengals would've advanced if Carson Palmer hadn't suffered an injury, but little about that team's mental makeup suggested it was capable of beating more mature, experienced teams like the Steelers.
I remember watching the final regular season home game with my dad and listening to his exact words:
"My fear is that these guys come unglued at the first sign of real adversity."
Was my dad a football expert? No. His expertise was limited to the various ways you could grill meat and which bars served the coldest Budweiser, but he was pretty prophetic. The Bengals did come unglued in their playoff loss to the Steelers, maybe not at the first sign of trouble, but nonetheless it was pretty evident both during and of course after the fact that the Bengals simply weren't mentally or emotionally equipped to win games in January.
Oh, and their defense sorta sucked.
*Kim Kardashian and Kanye West have a better chance of rearing a normal child than the 2009 Bengals ever did of winning a playoff game.
That was a good, resourceful team, anchored by Cedric Benson's running and Mike Zimmer's defense. (Ced deserved MVP votes that season. And a chunk of overpaid Carson Palmer's salary.) But their warts were exposed down the stretch. They had no downfield threat after Chris Henry's injury, and aside from Chad Ochocinco (his 72 catch/1047 yard/9 TD 2009 was not his best statistical season, but given who he was working with, it might have been his finest season), there wasn't one Bengal who could consistently catch a pass.
The aroma surround the Bengals late in December 2009 was worse than the laundry hamper at a homeless shelter. Their wins masked major offensive issues, as the Bengals struggled to beat bad teams, and when they played better teams, their defense was exposed for not being quite as good as we'd thought and their offense couldn't keep up.
Heading into the playoff game against the Jets (coldest game I've attended), the only solace was that they'd be facing a rookie quarterback who wasn't great on the road in his first playoff game. Other than that, this team seemed DOA in the postseason, and confirmed our worst fears by dropping a turd at home against a Jets team who's opponents let them walk into the playoffs.
The offense, as suspected, was incapable of overcoming its own mistakes, outmatched against New York's defense, and Carson Palmer stunk up the joint, sending his apologists into DEFCON 4 mode as they fended off the building criticism of his frequent crappy play.
*Last year's team ran out of both gas and bad teams on the schedule. They were blown out at Pittsburgh. They collapsed against the Texans at home. They beat lousy St. Louis and Arizona teams in uninspiring fashion. They were trucked by Ray Rice in the regular season finale.
Making the playoffs after turning over the roster following the 2010 season of disaffection was an accomplishment, one that they'll hopefully build on this weekend, but that team last year had no chance of winning a playoff game.
Especially on the road.
We tried to talk ourselves into it. They were facing a third string quarterback. Andre Johnson would be hobbling around on one leg. They'd won games on the road and wouldn't be done in by the Reliant Stadium Crowd. Remember trying to convince yourself of these things?
They got pummeled in a game that seemed unwinnable even when the Bengals took an early lead.
*This one seems winnable, at least in the sense that you can point to reasons they can win.
Their pass rush gives them a chance against anybody, especially a Texans team that hasn't protected Matt Shaub at all down the stretch (12 sacks in four games), and particularly against a quarterback who's seemed off since Houston's beatdown against the Patriots.
You can score on them in the air. The Texans gave up just 18 TD passes a year ago. This year, they've given up 29. Part of that is a schedule that included games against Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady. Part of that is that their defense has been beaten up. And part of that is that they're simply not as good as a season ago.
The Bengals' experience can't hurt, not just losing in last year's playoffs, but playing so many important games in the second half of the season. No, none of their seven wins in eight games came against teams as good as the Texans, but this team spent every one of the past eight weeks playing with little margin for error. They may lose tomorrow, but it won't be because the pressure to win is too much.
The Bengals go into the postseason with arguably their best defense yet. They possess one of the game's premiere playmakers. And they head into January as one of the hottest teams in the league, but at the same time one that doesn't seem all that impressed with themselves because they've made the playoffs.
They just score enough.
And that's going to be a problem.
Maybe the defense takes care of that for them. The D has scored TDs each of the last three weeks. A defensive score this week would go along way toward pulling off the upset.
Maybe special teams comes up big. They didn't win the Pittsburgh game without Kevin Huber (blocked punts are a concern), Josh Brown might have Mike Nugent looking for work, the Bengals have blocked a couple of punts in recent weeks, and Adam Jones is always dangerous when awaiting a punt.
But at some point, in big boy football games against big boy football teams, your offense needs to score.
The Bengals have more scoring issues than a pep band tuba section.
Even if we take away the end of game drives against Philly and Baltimore, and if we subtract the "drive" that led to the game-winning kick in Pittsburgh, the Bengals have scored a touchdown just once in their last 24 drives.
Their TD drives against the Eagles all began in Philadelphia territory. Neither of their final eight drives against Dallas resulted in touchdowns.
You get the point. The offense is struggling.
They haven't sustained drives. They've stalled in the red zone. And aside from AJ Green and Jermaine Gresham, I'm still not sure what to count on from any Bengals pass-catcher.
The offensive line hasn't consistently protected Andy Dalton all season. Football Outsiders (required visiting for football fans) has the line ranked as the 28th best in pass protection. And up until the half he played against the Ravens' scrubs this past week, Andy's past few games were mistake-filled, and he struggled with accuracy.
JJ Watt worries me. And the Dalton's skittishness in the pocket even when Watt isn't getting to him worries me.
The crowd noise worries me, especially with this line - still relatively inexperienced on the interior - having to make calls amid the deafening noise to account for Watt and other Houston pass rushers.
And it's not like we know what the Bengals will get from Benjarvus Green-Ellis right now.
The onus is on the defense, and while I think Mike Zimmer's unit will keep them in any game against any opponent, logic dictates that the Texans, who still have a 1600-yard receiver and 1400-yard runner, won't get totally shut down.
As good as the Bengals are defensively, the Texans can score 20.
As bad as the Bengals are offensively right now, I'm not sure they can score 21.
I'd like to be wrong about this. There isn't a fan on this planet who doesn't want the 22-year dry spell to end. I'm tired of hearing about what the price of gas was the last time the Bengals won a playoff game, and there'd be nothing I'd enjoy more than having another week to talk about the Bengals actually playing more games instead of turning the page to next season.
But they're going to have to score for that to happen. And I just don't think they can do that enough.
Texans 20 Bengals 16.
4) Other playoff games. I like the Packers, Ravens, and Seahawks. All outright. And all to cover.
5) Sleep. I need some. Enjoy your weekend. Go Bengals. Good night.